Ehrenfeld salutes bill protecting First Amendment rights from overseas libel suits
NEW YORK (Press Release)– Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, author of Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed – and How to Stop It, and founder of the movement against libel tourism, praised Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), Chairman of the Judiciary Committee and Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama), its Ranking Member, for introducing the “Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage Act” or the ”SPEECH Act” in the United States Senate today. The bill was formally placed before the entire Judiciary Committee.
The SPEECH Act will uphold First Amendment protections for American free expression by guarding American authors and publishers from the enforcement of frivolous foreign libel suits filed in countries that do not have our strong free speech protections. Such lawsuits are often used by “libel-tourists” in an effort to suppress the rights of American scholars, writers, and journalists to speak, write and publish freely in print and on the Internet.
The Act grants “a cause of action for declaratory judgment relief against a party who has brought a successful foreign defamation action whose judgment undermines the first amendment,” and provides for legal fees. These measures will help diminish the severe chilling effect such suits have already had on journalists, researchers the general media particularly on matters of national security and public safety.
Based on New York State’s “Libel Terrorism Protection Act” (also known as “Rachel’s Law”), the SPEECH Act marks the culmination of a national campaign spearheaded by Dr. Ehrenfeld following her own experiences with libel tourism.
In Funding Evil, published in the U.S. in 2003, Dr. Ehrenfeld documented how Saudi billionaire Khalid bin Mahfouz funded al-Qaeda, Hamas and other terrorist organizations. Mahfouz sued Dr. Ehrenfeld for libel in London, attempting to use the plaintiff-friendly British libel laws to intimidate her into silence. Mahfouz had previously used this tactic to bully more than 40 authors and a publisher into apologies for and retractions of similar revelations.
Dr. Ehrenfeld refused to acknowledge the British court’s jurisdiction over her as she did not live in England, nor was her book published or marketed there. The English court ruled against her by default, ordering her to pay a hefty fine, apologize, retract her statements and pay Mahfouz’s substantial legal fees.
Represented by her attorney, Daniel Kornstein of Kornstein Veisz Wexler & Pollard, LLP, Dr. Ehrenfeld countersued Mahfouz in New York to prevent the enforcement of the default judgment on the grounds that it did not meet the standard of American First Amendment protections for free speech. When the court dismissed the suit for lack of jurisdiction over Mahfouz, the New York State Legislature acted quickly, and passed “Rachel’s Law,” in April 2008, enabling the New York courts to take jurisdiction over foreign libel plaintiffs who sue New York authors and publishers abroad. Since then, six states have passed similar legislation protecting their residents.
In May 2008, Reps. Peter King (R-NY) and Steve Cohen (D-TN), proposed similar bills in the House, and Senators Arlen Specter (D-PA) Joseph Lieberman (CT), and Charles Schumer (D-NY) sponsored the Free Speech Protection Act in the Senate. Dr. Ehrenfeld thanks their initiative and support, which have led to the introduction of the SPEECH Act.
The editorial pages of The New York Times, The Washington Post, New York Post, Los Angeles Times and Miami Herald, as well as organizations such as the Association of American Publishers, American Library Association, the American Society of News Editors, the Independent Book Publishers Association, the American Civil Liberties Union and 9/11 Families for a Secure America, among others, have supported Dr. Ehrenfeld’s fight for free speech.
“The SPEECH Act, introduced today by Senators Leahy and Sessions, marks a critical victory in the fight for free speech and the advancement of our national security. Without the SPEECH Act, American writers, publishers, and Internet users, will continue to face an imminent threat of the enforcement of foreign libel suit when reporting on matters of public interest, including science, national security, health and personal safety.
With Congress’ action, other nations will no longer have a green light to attempt to silence American critics,” said Dr. Ehrenfeld. “We have attracted a broad spectrum of those who are interested in protecting free speech and enabling authors to write about national security and other issues. This is not a partisan cause. This is an American cause, and it’s time for Congress to protect its citizens.”
Preceding provided by Rachel Ehrenfeld